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History of Military Auxiliary Radio System

From USAF MARS Colorado Station AFA8DV - Vinny Del Giudice



The Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) is a Department of Defense sponsored program, established as separately managed and operated programs by the Army, Navy-Marine Corps and Air Force to provide  communications support. MARS members are volunteer licensed amateur radio operators who are interested in military communications. MARS traces its roots to the Army Amateur Radio System, established in 1925.

Pentagon Amateur Radio Club MARS Archives - Click Here




The Army and Air Force MARS headquarters stations were housed on the concourse of the Pentagon during the 1950s and 1960s.

Each station featured 1,000-watt transmitters, Collins 75-A receivers, master consoles and operting booths.

The miltary call sign of the Army MARS station was WAR and its FCC call sign for the amateur bands was K4USA.

The Air Force MARS call sign was AIR, with an amateur radio call sign of K4AF.

K4AF is the current call sign of the Pentagon Amateur Radio Club. 

The club also operates as Army MARS station AAN3PNT; Air Force MARS AGA3DC; and Navy Marine-Corps MARS NNN0PNT.



Senator Barry Goldwater

The late U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona was born in Phoenix, then Arizona Territory, on New Years Day 1909. Goldwater, a Major General in the USAF Reserve, was very active in Air Force MARS, and during the Vietnam conflict his Phoenix station was used to provide many thousands of phone patches from service personnel in Southeastern Asia to loved ones back home.


The following was delivered by Douglas Stivison at
the Veteran Wireless Operators Annual Awards Banquet, June 5, 1998, in honor of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, USAF MARS operator AFC6BC

Barry Goldwater passed away last week, and people of all political persuasions are mourning the passing of a man known for straight talking throughout his life.

And we of the VWOA lose our Honorary President. In fact, we lose the man who held the office longer than any of his distinguished peers including Guglielmo Marconi, Lee DeForest, David Sarnoff, and Herbert Hoover. We will miss him.

Barry’s fascination with radio was lifelong, and like so many of us, it started with a crystal set which he constructed as a boy. He maintained a showcase amateur station that was also, by far, the best-known Military Affiliated Radio System (MARS) station not actually located on a military base. Barry’s legendary generosity extended to letting many others, particularly young people, use his fine equipment, big antenna, and excellent location.

As an influential lawmaker he was a strong advocate for amateur radio, was a strong supporter of the 1964 amateur radio postage stamp, worked behind the scenes to assure amateur representation on international regulatory teams, and he was a force behind loosening the amateur regulations to include reciprocal licensing with many nations.

Barry was a strong advocate on liberalizing (truly a strange term to ever include in the same sentence with his name) the amateur rules, especially those to do with reciprocal licensing and third party traffic handling. In fact, it was in large part due to his pioneering views that the total rewriting of part 97 of the FCC regulations occurred under President Ronald Reagan.

Beside the amateur-radio-specific issues just mentioned, Barry was a strong voice in the Senate in support of a broad range of technology issues, both military and civilian. He expressed many times his belief that technology leadership, technology education, and technology investment were fundamental both to our nation’s economy as well as its defense.

The connection between Barry Goldwater and the VWOA spans more than three decades, not quite half the history of our organization. He joined the VWOA in 1966, fully qualifying as a veteran member for his military service as both pilot and radio operator in the Air Service, later the Air Force. In 1968 he accepted our highest award, the Marconi Gold Medal. Four years later, in 1972, he accepted the office of Honorary President. He held the office for 27 years.

Barry will certainly be remembered for his political views, but I am certain that he will be remembered even longer for his character.

His politics are well known. He lost the 1964 national presidential election, a loss universally attributed to his outspoken conservatism. He was lambasted at the time as too extreme … only to find that his problem was not the extremity of his views so much as timing. President Reagan, one of the most popular presidents in history, ultimately ran and served on a platform of smaller government and greater personal responsibility which was modeled on Barry Goldwater’s platform.

Barry was, in many ways, simply ahead of his time. Though a losing presidential candidate, he was also virtually single-handedly responsible for the redefinition of the power base of his own party, shifting it squarely away from the Northeast into the South and West. This power shift was in many ways directly responsible for the growing strength of his party in later years.

Although routed in the 1964 general election, Barry Goldwater will be remembered for a legacy of political achievement that escaped the man who defeated him for the White House. Both Colin Powell and General Norman Schwartzkopf have repeatedly credited much of the victory in Operation Desert Storm directly to the reorganization of the American military after Viet Nam.

Barry Goldwater and Sam Nunn of Georgia, together studied the operational problems with military command that plagued our forces in Viet Nam, and they worked tirelessly to change them in order to allow for much faster, must more flexible, and much more effective strategic and tactical decision making.

It may be one of the great ironies of American history that possibly Barry Goldwater’s greatest single contribution to our nation may well be the revitalization of the military after the Viet Nam defeat. And Barry achieved this by studying the mistakes made in Viet Nam by the man who defeated him in the race for the White House — Lyndon Johnson

Goldwater received a tremendous amount of criticism for his Senatorial votes against the landmark Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s. The interesting thing is that he was anything but a bigot, anything but a racist. His opposition to the legislation stemmed from his fundamental belief in restricting the size, scope, and reach of federal power. He felt deeply that Washington should not legislate morality, should not control every lunch counter, bus, and classroom in the nation . . . even if the goal of the legislation, itself, was undeniably good and noble.

And Barry never missed an opportunity to say that he felt the goal of the Civil Rights legislation was beyond reproach. In his own life, he organized the Arizona Air National Guard which from day one was the first fully racially integrated National Guard unit in the country. He was also no stranger to anti-Semitic prejudice against himself, as the son of a Jewish businessman and a Christian mother.

His favorite joke was the apocryphal story of Phoenix’s most restricted country club. Barry claimed that he applied for membership when he was a young, successful businessman, but was refused because he was half Jewish. He applied again when he entered local politics and was turned down again. When he was elected to the Senate, he was turned down again. But in 1964, when it looked like there was a chance that he might become President of the United States, the club reconsidered how bad it would look to be the club that blackballed the President. So, Barry claims the club membership committee finally offered him membership . . . but only on the condition that he agreed to only play nine holes. Potential President or not, he was still half Jewish.

But Barry is best known for his character.

Despite his often unpopular positions on issues, he was voted by his peers in the Senate, as "the most congenial man in the Senate." Upon his retirement, his colleagues on both sides of the aisle started the Goldwater Scholarship fund. He counted among his closest friends Hubert Humphrey — as close to his political, philosophical opposite as one could find.

The New York Times of May 30, 1998 contained an eloquent editorial about Barry entitled "The Honorable Senator From Arizona." It said, "Part of the reason for such fraternal good will was that Mr. Goldwater saw politics as a debate over ideas, not a blood sport for power. The other reason was that all sides knew he was one of those rare creatures on Capitol Hill who talked straight." 

The late Senator Barry Goldwater, K7UGA, USAF MARS Operator AFC6BG 


Goldwater's QSL Card 


VIETNAM: Army MARS installation at Camp Bearcat, just north of Saigon. Captain Jackson Moss and Master Sergeant William Lee from website of NE7X.


MARS QSL card from Vietnam 


Army MARS in Vietnam

From U.S. Army Signal Corps

The MARS operation in Vietnam is definitely small when compared with all other Army communication services provided, but to hundreds of thousands of servicemen in Vietnam and their families back home it has been the most important service provided by the Signal Corps.

After receiving the approval of the government of the Republic of Vietnam, the Military Affiliate Radio System began operation in Vietnam in late 1965, with all U.S. armed services participating.

The Army MARS program in Vietnam started with just six stations.

A personal radio and telephone hookup, or "phone patch," service began in February 1966 when the Department of the Army authorized the Vietnam MARS stations to make contact with designated stations in the United States.

A U.S. contact station would then place a collect telephone call to a designated home, and for five minutes a soldier in Vietnam, perhaps one just in from a jungle patrol, could talk to his folks, who were halfway around the world.

True, the reception was not always good because of ionospheric storms and weather disturbances. But who cared when an amateur radio operator in the United States was relaying to a soldier on a remote fire base in Vietnam the message "yes, she loves you and yes, she will marry you, over."

The U.S. Army, Vietnam, portion of the MARS program was completed in October 1969 with a total of forty-seven MARS stations throughout the republic, operating in seven different nets.

The number of contact stations in the United States had grown to over a hundred. In the spring of 1970 the number of phone patches, or completed connections, from Vietnam to the United States reached an all-time high, averaging over 42,000 each month.

At the conclusion of the MARS expansion program in Vietnam, soldiers in every American unit had access to a local MARS station. The backbone of the MARS stations in Vietnam was a commercially purchased, "off-the-shelf," single sideband radio, which was capable of spanning great distances. It was not only the mainstay for the MARS stations, but also for several years was used constantly in Vietnam to meet combat requirements for a long-range radio.



Air Force MARS

USAF MARS operates under the auspices of the Air Force Network Integration Center, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. 

Operations are conducted on military radio channels.

MARS traces its roots to the Army Amateur Radio System, which was organized by members of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1925.

In 1948, the Army and Air Force established the Military Amateur Radio System, later renamed the Military Affiliate Radio System.

In 1962, Navy-Marine Corps MARS was launched making MARS a joint service program.

In 1997, Army MARS and Air Force MARS inaugurated on-the-air inter-operability.

In 2009, the program was renamed the Military Auxiliary Radio System.

In 2011, Air Force MARS established the Mission Support Network, which provides communications support for the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, military and National Guard units, and federal, state and local government agencies.


AIR was the call sign of the USAF MARS station at the Pentagon and then Andrews AFB during the Cold War years.


KØGRL: The late Air Force General Curis LeMay was an active amateur radio operator and held a succession of call signs; KØGRL, K4FRA, and W6EZV. He held these calls respectively while stationed at Offutt AFB, Washington, D.C. and when he retired in California. KØGRL is still the call sign of the Strategic Air Command Memorial Amateur Radio Club. He was famous for being on the air on amateur bands while flying on board SAC bombers. LeMay became aware that the new single sideband (SSB) technology offered a big advantage over Amplitude Modulation (AM) for SAC aircraft operating long distances from their bases. In conjunction with Art Collins, WØCXX, of Collins Radio, he established SSB as the radio standard for SAC bombers in 1957. MARS stations on military installations often used Collins Radio equipment. 

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